1857 hero caught in BJP, RJD tussle

A key figure in the 1857 Indian rebellion against the British East India Company, Veer Kunwar Singh has emerged as a talking point in Bihar politics after the BJP last week announced it would bring together people from 12 districts and organise a collective waving of more than 75,000 national flags in Jagadishpur in Bhojpur district, where the freedom fighter was born, to register a “Guinness world record” on April 23.

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A function celebrating Kunwar Singh’s birth anniversary earlier used to be organised by the state government in Jagadishpur but is being held this year by the Centre in the presence of Union Home Minister Amit Shah as part of “Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav”, an initiative to celebrate 75 years of independence. State BJP leaders said the collective flag-waving would beat a record held by Pakistan, which once simultaneously waved 57,000 national flags.

Jagdishpur is part of the Ara Lok Sabha that is represented by Union minister RK Singh of the BJP. It was earlier represented by the Janata Dal (United)’s Rajput leader Meena Singh and her husband Ajit Singh. Ara has a substantial number of Rajput voters and Veer Kunwar Singh’s Rajput identity is used by parties for political mileage.

The April 23 event has ruffled the feathers of Opposition parties, with the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) calling the collective waving of flags “an overdose of nationalism”. The freedom fighter, it said, belongs to each Bihari and Indian.

“No political party should try to usurp the legacy of Veer Kunwar Singh. There must not be an attempt to confine him to a particular caste and even as a mascot of nationalism,” said RJD spokesperson Mrityunjay Tewari.

Though the JD(U) has not openly criticised the BJP event, party functionaries said they were not comfortable with the idea of the BJP trying to use Veer Kunwar Singh for an “overt show of nationalism”. A JD(U) leader added, “Though it is a matter of great honour that a big event is being organised in Jagdishpur to commemorate Kunwar Singh, we are not very convinced about the need to make it a show of national flags on the occasion.”

BJP leaders, however, said the focus, for long, had been only on freedom struggle heroes associated with the Indian National Congress while other important freedom fighters such as Veer Kunwar Singh and Rani Lakshmi Bai remained unsung. They too need to be honoured for their sacrifices, the leaders added. BJP spokesperson Santosh Pathak said part of the blame for such freedom fighters not getting their due recognition lay on “Left historians” for “not writing enough on the likes of Kunwar Singh”.

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